Like Swimming

Morphine

Dreamworks / Rykodisc Records, 1997

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morphine_(band)

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/20/1997

Associating Morphine to cigars, whiskey and scotch is about as natural as associating LSD with Timothy Leary. However, you have to admit a certain truthness to the rule. So, when I settled back to review their latest, Like Swimming, I came prepared, as should a person who has never listened to Morphine before. So, kick back, have a martini, have a scotch and a choice cigar. Now prepare for a 40 minute groove fest.

Morphine may be limited, but they're damn good at what they do. After the sparse, and yes, smokey, intro, the band kicks into "Potion". The chemistry the band has with each other may one of the best today. Two-string slide bassist and vocalist, Mark Sandman, baritone saxist Dana Colley and drummer Billy Conway groove off and play off of each other's beats like the tightest of trios. The simple sax melody of "Potion" and the syncopated bass and drums are irresistable.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Like Swimming doesn't agitate that much from their last three great albums, Good, Cure for Pain and Yes. Keyboards and even a sparse guitar riff or two can be heard on this album, but for the most part, it sticks to the patented Morphine formula:infecting groove by a bass or drum and Sandman's Leonard Cohen-meets-Jim Morrison vocals.

For all purposes though, Like Swimming is Morphine's finest release so far. Intimate, pensive songs like "Hanging On A Curtain" and "Empty Box" somehow fit perfectly in between red hot jams like "I Know You" and the head bobbing "Eleven O' Clock". The band even experiments with distorted vocals and a "what the fuck is he thinkin'" chorus of "French Fries With Pepper". Even on the experimental tracks, Morphine serves its purpose, the chorus will be in your head long after the album ends.

You can catch Morphine this summer on the HORDE fest, thankfully headlining the second stage. Morphine is a great group on record and live. I saw them in Lawrence, Kansas in April and they rocked the house. Only problem with Morphine's type of music is it's too intimate. The band loses its effect in a venue bigger than 1,200.

Some critics lament that the band is shallow when it comes to lyrics. While they are not on the level of Pavement's bookishness, Sandman sings every vocal like he's feeling it, just as important as the words on the lyric sheet.

Easily the frontrunner so far this year for great albums, barring the fall releses of Liz Phair and Garbage, this looks like a contender for album of the year in my book. Grab a tonic and prepare to be impressed. On second thought, make it a double.

Rating: A-

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© 1997 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Dreamworks / Rykodisc Records, and is used for informational purposes only.